Saint Stephen's Statue.




12, Gbeto Street, Off Iwaya Road, Onike-Iwaya, Yaba-Lagos.

Saint Stephen's Building.



Christian BelieverChristian BelieverThe common theme of today’s readings is the nature of our obligations to God and to our country. The readings show us how, with God’s help, we can be ideal citizens of both earth and Heaven.

Beloved, we are constantly tempted to think that our age is the first in which life is difficult; where a given reality can be both black and white. Strange right? Yeah, what you probably think is so straightforward and crystal clear may not after all be that clear to the other persons. Opinions about reality are often determined by perceptions and more by interests.

In the first reading from the Prophet Isaiah it is important to note that the Cyrus mentioned here is Cyrus II, the Great, who founded the Persian Empire. In 539 B.C., he conquered the Babylonians who had defeated the Jews 50 years earlier and had taken many of them into captivity. He decided to liberate the Jews from their exile and allow them to go back to their home country, Judea. In this passage, the prophet Isaiah declares that Cyrus, even though a pagan, was God's instrument.

The amazing fact is that God actually used Cyrus to restore His people to their homeland. God is able and willing to use ungodly powers to achieve His ends because He is the God not only of the Jews, but of history and of the whole world. Hence, He anointed Cyrus as a saviour of His people. Cyrus carried out God's plan by setting the Jewish exiles free and giving them permission to go back to Judah to rebuild their Temple and city. He also returned to them the gold and silver vessels which Nebuchadnezzar had taken from the Temple. So a pagan emperor became, in God’s hand, the instrument by means of whom the people of Israel might return to their Promised Land. God can make use of anyone to accomplish His plans and purposes.

To understand the gospel narrative well, we need to appreciate the fact that Jesus lived within a time where contradictions were rife. Remember that the Prophetess Anna had prophesied that Jesus will be a sign of contradiction! Jesus lived in a truly explosive historical context: the Roman armies occupy Palestine, and the Jewish resistant was constantly rumbling. The zealots opposed the occupying powers and advocate nonpayment of taxes. On the other hand, the Herodians rely on the Roman authorities to help them keep their privileged positions. The Pharisees, striving to preserve religious freedom, comprise more or less with the political authorities. This admixture of persons and ideologies were strange bedfellows but somehow they were willing to put their differences aside just to trap for Jesus so that He will compromise himself.

The first thing we should note is that the question put to Jesus was a lawyer’s trick question. It was not a question that sought enlightenment; it was not put to Jesus in order to learn from Him. No. It was put to Jesus to trap Him. Was He to be seen as an insurrectionist revolutionary and an enemy of the State or was He to be seen as a collaborator with the hated Roman authorities who so brutalized the Jewish people? The Jews as well as the Romans hated each other but here we see them joining forces to bring down an innocent man. His teachings and especially his way of life upset them so much that they would rather have him silenced.

Do we sometimes behave like these sets of persons? Because we hate the message, we have to kill the messenger. How often have we loathe God's message expressed in the lives of many, who struggle to live it out honestly? We mock them; we ridicule them; we seek them out; we often want them to fail; we slander them; we despise them for no just cause, simply because we cannot live up to the standards set by their faith. Because we cannot measure up, we rather pull them down!!! We disparage them in public and in private, and do all we can to expose anything that smacks of weakness in them.

"...Teacher, we know that you are true, and teach the way of God truthfully, and care for no man; for you do not regard the position of men." These flattering words are the bait that hides the trap, yet this trap is at the same time a homage paid to the young rabbi evil people; they acknowledge Him to be independent, deeply devout, firm in His convictions.. We know that Jesus often went against the social norms and public opinion - He moves with publicans and sinners, and even elects one of them as an apostles (Matt 9:9-10).
Like Jesus, we too should be always truthful and follow the authentic path of God, and not allow ourselves to be influenced by the pattern of this present world, where we get to stand for nothing but simply be swayed from side to side, by the current trends.

Furthermore, we need to realize that Jesus’ response was directed at the precise issue of whether or not the Roman taxes should be paid. Jesus said nothing about the autonomy of Caesar in his secular role. Nor was Jesus making any statement at all about separating religion from society. Jesus defeated their scheme by asking his challengers to show him “the coin of tribute” – the coin they would give to the tax-gatherer. In those days, all secular money was thought to belong to the Emperor. [The Temple had its own coinage, not used in paying secular debts.] Thus, the Emperor’s image was on each secular coin. The money belonged to him and he simply permitted people to use it. By actually having a Roman coin in their possession, complete with Caesar's image and Caesar's inscription, the challengers had already shown where their loyalties lay.

Jesus then said, "Give back to Caesar what belongs to Caesar -- and to God what belongs to God." In other words, we give to the Emperor the coin because his image is on it, and we give to God our own selves because we are created in the image of God (Gn 1:26). Jesus’ answer acknowledges our obligation as citizens to the state, but affirms our larger obligation to God. Both the state and God require certain loyalties from us, but we owe God our very lives.

So these questions remain: What is Caesar’s, and what is God’s? Is there anything at all that is not God’s – is there anything at all in human activity that does not stand under God’s judgment? Are we, as Christians, exempting anything from God’s purview?

By birth we become the citizens of the country of our birth, and by Baptism we become the citizens of Heaven. In every age, Christians are faced with balancing the demands of Caesar with the commands of God. Jesus’ answer forms the guiding principle in solving the problems that arise from our dual citizenship, belonging to God and to our country. As Christians, we are to obey the government, even when it is pagan and non-Christian. A loyal Christian is always a loyal citizen. Failure in good citizenship is also failure in Christian duty. We fulfill our duties to our country by loyally obeying the just laws of the State, by paying all lawful taxes, and by contributing our share, whenever called on, toward the common good.

Similarly, we fulfill our duties to God by being faithful, loyal, active members of the spiritual Kingdom of God, the Church, which Christ established on earth. Thus, a real Christian is at one and the same time a good citizen of his country and a good citizen of the Kingdom of Heaven, but his priority is his allegiance to God. As the famous martyr St. Thomas More said of himself: "I die the King's good servant, but God's first." Cooperation with secular authority cannot interfere with our primary duty of "giving back to God" our whole selves, in whose image - like the stamp on the coin - we are made.

There is no reason why the state and the Church cannot work together to improve the lives of their citizens. There is usually no conflict -- unless the government forces people to act in a way contrary to God’s law. Then we must act in accordance with God’s law and not man’s because, while the state only exists in this world, God’s law exists in this world and the next. This means that sometimes we have to refuse to obey our government. When the state oversteps the mark and puts itself in the place of God, Christians are, as a last resort, absolved from obedience. We must obey God rather than human beings.

Since everything is God’s, we must give ourselves to Him 100%, not just 10% on Sundays. We should be generous in fulfilling our Sunday obligations and find time every day for prayer and worship in the family, for the reading of the Bible and the proper training of our children in Faith and morals. St. Augustine teaches that when we truly succeed in "giving to God what is God's," we are "doing justice to God. Our contribution to the parish Church should be an expression of our gratitude to God, giving back to God all that he has given us.

So, what is due to God? Everything. Since everything comes from Him, we ought to give everything back to Him. That is justice, plain and simple. So, we ask ourselves: “Am I ready and willing to give God everything? The first Filipino saint is Saint Lorenzo Ruiz, a martyr. He was a married layman, a lowly sacristan in a church in Manila. He joined the Dominican missionaries to Japan. There they were captured and tortured. Under penalty of death, they were ordered to renounce their faith. Lorenzo uttered these heroic words: “I am a Christian. And if I have a thousand lives, I will give them all to God.” Such a beautiful example of total generosity to God!

Prayer - Lord God may I wholly offer myself to you without counting the cost. May my every breathe resonate with love of you that I may live each day, being close to you, knowing you more, loving you more dearly and serving you faithfully. Amen!!!




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